How to recover after a marathon
2. May 2024

It’s important to recover properly after a race. Here are some expert tips on how to get your body back in top shape with the proper diet, rest and movement

Running a marathon is an amazing experience. But it’s also a distance where the body use a lot of energy. That’s why it’s important to recover well after the race so you can get back in top shape as soon as possible.

At Copenhagen Marathon we’ve teamed up with two experts from Team Denmark, nutritionist Pernille Krogh Björklund and doctor Mads Münster Karlsson. They advise some of Denmark’s best athletes on a daily basis and in this article they give some good advice on how to recover after a marathon.

It is important to emphasize that this is just a general guideline and reservations should always be made for individual conditions and especially training status. However, many of the elements below will apply across the board from elite to recreational.

In this article you can read more about how to use the elements below in your recovery:

  • Hydration and nutrition
  • Sleep and sleep
  • Active recovery
  • Passive recovery
  • When are you ready again?

The most important elements of recovery are basically sleep and nutrition. In other words, it’s important to get plenty of energy and to prioritize sleep – preferably 7-9 hours a day – in the week after the marathon.

Hydration and nutrition
Running 42.2 km is no small feat. It is an intensive strain on the body, which for most people will be felt significantly in the days following the race. After a marathon, it’s therefore important to give your body the best conditions for a good recovery process. A great place to start is to focus on hydration and nutrition. There’s a lot of catching up to do after a hot Sunday in the streets of Copenhagen.

Rehydration plays a crucial role in recovery. Dehydration can have a major impact on important processes in the body, which can impair and prolong recovery after the race. Therefore, drink plenty of fluids (possibly sports drinks or electrolytes) to replace fluid loss after the race. This is especially true in the hours after the race, but also in the following days. It also helps to restore fluid balance in the body and promote an efficient recovery process.

After a marathon, it’s also important to consume sufficient energy to aid the recovery process – including muscle repair and replenishing glycogen stores. You may want to consider increasing your energy intake slightly in the days following a marathon.

Your body needs carbohydrates, protein and fat. It can therefore be a good idea to give carbohydrates a little extra space on the plate in the days after the race. A good rule of thumb is to fill your plate with the three important things: fuel (carbohydrate sources), building blocks (protein sources) and protection (vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, grains and fat sources).

This is very much the case after a marathon. Of course there’s room for a burger, pizza or whatever else you can dream up to celebrate the achievement – but the body also needs good nutrients to aid recovery and rebuild itself.

In general, it’s important to listen to your body’s signals and adjust your fluid and energy intake accordingly.

When we sleep, our bodies are recharged. A lot of important processes take place in our hormonal systems while we sleep. After hard physical exertion, it goes without saying that sleep is essential for how you will feel the following days. So prioritize adequate sleep and rest.

Active recovery
The day after a marathon, it’s good to get out and walk a little bit. If possible, a leisurely bike ride or swim of around 30 minutes can also be quite good. The theory is that the calm movement of the body without impact will increase blood flow to the affected tissue – primarily muscles, tendons and bones – and this can help the recovery process.

Passive recovery
Examples of this could be cold/heat treatment, ice baths, compression boots, massage or similar where you don’t have to be active yourself.

This type of recovery can often feel pleasant along the way, and if it’s an option, it certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s also a type of recovery where you typically feel like you’re doing something good for yourself, which in itself can have a positive impact on the body.

Several studies have shown a positive effect of ice bathing after hard physical exercise in terms of getting the body back to normal status.

When can you be ready again?
Whether you’re an elite marathon runner or running the 42.195 kilometers for the first time, the physical exertion stays with you long after the race.

It’s important to listen to your body and it’s important to slow down before you start running again – especially if you haven’t run that far before. Much of the tissue in the body will feel good again after a few weeks, but our tendon tissue in particular is very slow to adapt to physical impact. Therefore, the tendon tissue may be affected by the 42.195 kilometers for a longer period of time.

To avoid getting tendonitis, Achilles tendonitis, jumper’s knee or other tendon injuries, it’s very important not to start running again too quickly. If you’re an athlete, it’s a good idea to take up to a month off from running or at least limit the pace and distance. If you’re an elite or sub-elite, you usually know your body much better and your body is used to a harder workload. Therefore, you still need to be careful and it will be well worth it to take a few weeks off after the race.

In general, it’s important to pay attention to the general body fatigue that a marathon can cause. This fatigue can last for several weeks afterwards depending on how hard it was for you on race day.

Have a great recovery!